Whether it’s a current hobby or a romantic fantasy – opening a winery or planting a vineyard in Maryland can be an exciting – and profitable – business opportunity.
In 2004, Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich convened an exploratory task force to investigate ways of helping the state’s wine/grape industry. This group produced a 52-recommendation report outlining how the state, the wine/grape industry associations and the university can help grow Maryland’s industry. That task force – now a permanent body – meets quarterly to discuss issues facing the industry and work to ensure Maryland becomes a leader in winegrowing.
REMEMBER: Wineries and vineyards are agriculture, pure and simple. Your hands will get dirty in this business, and it’s only through hard work and dedication that your winery/vineyard project will succeed. Both can be very costly to start, and even more costly to “fix” if you employ poor planning.
ADVICE: Talk with the industry groups, the University and current growers and winemakers to learn about the industry, its current challenges and needs. If you’re planting a vineyard – find out what grapes the wineries need most, BUT REMEMBER that your site will not sustain all varieties. If you’re starting a winery, conduct an initial market study to learn which wines are most widely marketable, and then which grapes are most readily available.
LEARN, LEARN, LEARN: We sponsor many courses and workshops to help prospective, new and experienced growers and wineries expand their knowledge. The Grow & Fortify Academy offers A Craft Beverage Producer Startup webinar that walks you through the law, basic considerations and the federal, state and local licensing process. Additional courses are available that address specific vineyard and winery topics. Explore!
Facts You Need to Know to Start a Winery
- Wineries must be authorized by the TTB on the Federal level via a Wine Basic Permit, the Comptroller’s office at the State level in the form of a Class 3 or Class 4 winery license, and be allowed to exist under the county’s zoning code. Talk with MWA prior to proceeding to ensure your zoning is correct.
- Maryland has two winery licenses: Class 3 and Class 4:
- The Class 4 license is considered to be the state’s “farm winery” license – and mandates that licensees use a minimum percentage of Maryland-grown fruit, or have a minimum acreage of grapevines.
- The Class 4 license allows a winery to sell wine it produces at retail (by the glass, bottle or case) to visitors.
- The Class 3 is designed to be a production facility only, and the law severely limits direct customer access to the wine.
The Process of Becoming a Licensed Winery
- Really, truly understand what it means to be a licensed winery. Talk with University experts, speak with the Maryland Wineries Association, current wineries, growers and suppliers to get a feel for the time, energy and investment necessary for a successful operation.
- Join the Maryland Wineries Association as an associate member – you’ll learn a lot by attending the meetings and getting to know the other wineries and state officials who regularly attend the meetings.
- Find a location and begin discussions with the local jurisdictions/zoning boards about your winery operation. This is the only place where legislation may be necessary – if your county does not currently authorize wineries.
- Carefully complete both the Federal and State winery applications.
- Once you receive your permits, you can make and sell your wine to the public, attend festivals, sell to retail stores and restaurants, and attend farmers’ markets.
Learn more about the industry by joining the Maryland Wineries Association.
- Winery Business Plans & Feasibility Studies includes several documents and Excel templates to help you plan out your business.
- Cornell Winery Business Plan Examples